Tuesday, May 6, 2008

guest post: fenty's neighborhood walk-through

(this post was written by a fellow bloomingdalian....heck, it was written by my roommate because he was home and i was at work. thank goodness for guest reporters. i see why the prince of petworth farms things out now! without further ado...)

The neighborhood walk with Mayor Adrian Fenty started before it began. There were reports from neighbors that the alleys that he would walk later in the day were cleaned this morning, in preparation for this walk. And for about an half hour before the walk began, at any given time, there were between 5 and 15 DC police officers on the corner of First and Seaton.

The walk started in the alley southeast of the intersection of Seaton NW and First NW. The Mayor was running late so we started with the Ward 5 Outreach and Services Specialist, Clinton LeSueur. There were people, often directors (I know because Mayor Fenty kept referring to them that way) representing many DC agencies and departments. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Fire Department, District Department of Transportation, District Department of Public Works, and many more that I'm sure I'm missing. There were at least 15 people from the DC government on this walk.

The crowd walked north on the western north-south alley crossing Seaton Place NW and exiting on T Street. Taking a right, we walked east down T Street.

The Mayor still had not joined us at this point but Mr. LeSueur did a good job of keeping things moving. He showed off the speed humps that had been installed on T Street since the last walk-though. (For the record, I was not on the last walk through, so any claims that I make about it are based on the context in which they were mentioned on the 5/2 walk)

There was a building doing construction on the south side of the unit block of T Street. Linda Argo, Director of DCRA, was on the walk-though and she was probably my favorite city official of the day. She went up to the building under construction and checked their permits, because the two guys doing the work outside didn't look like they spoke much English, she knocked on the door. The owner who came out had all the right permits and they got into a discussion where he admitted to having sent her a very angry email about his house being miscategorized as vacant. Miscategorized because he was living there at the time. She solicited his feedback for the process of recategorizing his home correctly and he said it was somewhat frustrating, she encouraged him to document it and send it to them. I found this interaction somewhat humorous and heartening that the City was soliciting complaints about their processes (then again, that was kind of the point of this kind of walk through).

As we turned off T to walk south through the west north-south alley, Mr. LeSueur asked the crowd to please thank DDOT for the speed humps, after which a neighbor could be heard to yell/suggest "brick sidewalks!" I can only presume this is a Randolph Street resident.

We stopped at the intersection of the east-west alley and the north-south alley in the T/1st/Seaton/North Cap block. Here the topic of alley cleanings first came up. A neighbor pointed out to Mr. LeSueur that the alleys had been cleaned that morning, but that was only because the Mayor was coming. They said the alleys had not been cleaned since the last walk through but that they were promised by Mayor Fenty that they would be cleaned twice a month. When Mr. LeSueur brought the representative from DPW over (I can't tell/remember if it was this guy or not), he said the city was on a rotation of once every two months to clean the alleys. The neighbors and Mr. LeSueur pointed out that the Mayor had promised twice monthly clean-ups and, in the end, while the DPW guy wasn't ready to say "we'll do it twice a month", Mr. LeSueur said "I heard those words come out of the Mayors mouth, and that is what we are going to do". One neighbor humorously suggested telling DPW the Mayor was coming by every two weeks.

The other issue that came up at this intersection was of the common-area easements at the end of the east-west alley, in this case, the east end. With certain blocks the north-south alley is not directly behind the row of houses facing the north-south street (like how 3 houses on the right of the picture above face North Cap), there are a couple houses facing the east-west street (in this case the gray-ish house on the left faces T Street). DC fire code requires all houses to have front and back access to the alley or street, so the houses right near the corner of North Cap and T Street (or North Cap and Seaton), don't have frontage on the alley. In order to give those people access to the alley, and thus be compliant with the fire code, there are little "easements", like the area between the green cement wall and the plain cement wall to its left in the picture above. Before the last walk through, there was no gate here. So criminals could drive back in these alleys, park their cars in those spots and, well, commit crimes (drugs, prostitution, etc). Now, because of the gate, people can still walk out if there is a fire, but people can't park there and avoid detection late at night. (Sorry the picture is so bad, there was a U-Haul parked right in front of the gate)

We then walked south in that alley and while crossing Seaton we ran into the Mayor who was driving in from wherever he was previously in his white Ford Expedition.

The next stop was the back of an apartment building facing North Cap, just south of Seaton Place. This building apparently had a bit of debris behind it and was sited and has since been cleaned up. The Mayor quickly noted as he walked up "where is the dumpster? are we siting this?" Apparently an apartment building needs a dumpster for the residents of the building to use in throwing out their trash, which makes sense. I was kind of far away from the action at this point, so I didn't get the full discussion.

Here you can see Mayor Fenty with Mr. LeSueur (in the blue shirt). In the background a couple city guys from the walk through are talking to the building manager. I felt kind of bad for the building manager, I'm sure it is not his decision to keep this place in its current state, he is just doing what the owner tells him to do.

At this little gathering a neighbor also brought up the issue of the trash men in the neighborhood not really caring what happens to the trash that doesn't make it into the truck because they are so casual about turning the cans upside down. The Mayor seemed to think that they had already talked to them about this once before, so he said they would do so again.

Throughout the walk neighbors would come out onto porches and into the alleys to see what was going on, say 'hi' to the Mayor, etc. Here is one of those stops. At one point (I can't remember if it was this person or not) someone walked out and said "Mayor Fenty! So you're the reason our alleys got swept this morning!" and he said "No, your neighbors are the reason, I'm here because of them". Kind of a smooth response, I guess the guy is a politician after all. (the DPW guy, whose name I don't know, is to the left of Fenty in this picture)

Through out the entire tour, the Mayor would stop and ask his team "What have we done in this alley?" And his team had notes on what had been requested in the last walk through and what had been accomplished. It was clear Fenty wasn't down-in-the-weeds on every citation, but it was also clear that all of his directors knew what was going on in these blocks and had answers for what their department had done since the last walk though. In a way, Fenty didn't even need to be there, because he was just a conduit for the neighbors to the service departments. But it is clear his presence makes things happen, and it is clear he knows that.

Here the crowd walked east down the east-west alley in the Seaton/1st/S/North Cap Block.

We ran into some more neighbors in the back yard of an S Street house there who complained to the Mayor about rats. He said the Department of Health would be out to bait and trap them but that they needed to get residents to sign a petition in order to do so (perhaps because it is in someone's backyard, not on city land?)

This is the back of a house, near the corner of Seaton and First, that is apparently doing work and displaying permits from 1993. That takes balls.

This is on the west end of the east-west alley on the S/1st/Randolph/North Cap block. Someone (a city person) asked if they could get a crew out here to take care of the graffiti and the DCRA Director responded "Get the graffiti off? We need to get this thing outta here!" The "thing" she referred to was this unsightly tetanus-shot inducing shed on the left of this picture. I'm not really sure what all they can cite on that back yard and that shed, but it sounded like they were not going to be very lenient.

I believe this block's alleys (S/1st/Randolph/North Cap) had not been on the last walk through, so it presented more opportunities to take care of things and not as much opportunity to show off work done.

This house on Randolph Street a neighbor claimed had been vacant for 40 years. Apparently someone is trying to buy it through the DC tax office but Fenty said the city was just going to "take it" (I'm not sure if that means condemn it, or put a lien on it or what). Fenty said it was easier for the city to take it and put it on the market than to go through the tax office which is apparently some kind of headache. (There were a lot of conversation that I heard that I only understood part of. Clearly, many neighbors and city employees have a much better grasp on the particulars of the things that allow them to, and prevent them from, doing their jobs)

Here Fenty is wrapping up after talking about the easement he is standing in. The city had apparently researched this one and this easement is not a common-area but it is owned by a private individual (one of the houses on S Street, I think). So this takes more work to get the gate up to prevent people from parking in that space, because it is private. The Mayor seemed to think the city would be able to work with him and put up a gate, if they paid for it.

All in all, I was pretty impressed by the entire walk through. I think the importance of the Mayor lending his time and resources to make that happen cannot be overstated. This is a guy who is not just a mayor but also a governor (how many other cities manage medicade or issue driver licenses?). But this kind of attention is what is required to make Bloomingdale realize its full potential. It is a long, ongoing process, but it is a process that is underway.

You can view the entire flickr photoset here.


dcavocado said...

Wow....that is an awesome recap. Kudos to your roommate, he/she should be more of a regular contributor!

FlamingCissy said...

Very informative. Thanks.

As a Randolph PL resident, however, I must do some nitpicking about the references to Randolph ST.

Anonymous said...

This was hugely helpful. Thanks for sharing.

Sean Hennessey said...

terrific recap. thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hah, I live in one of those houses facing North Cap. I can see Fenty near our garbage.

I... feel honored.

Anonymous said...

How did Bloomingdale arrange for this walk-through?

IMGoph said...

bogfrog: from what i understand, it was our ANC (led by stu davenport, one of the proprietors of the big bear café) that requested the walk-through.